Welcome to Day 7 of 31 Days to Better Recordings.

All this talk about gear. It’s fun, right? You daydream of a studio filled from floor to ceiling with gear.

Awesome, right?

Well…maybe not.

While it’s fun to have a lot of equipment, it only makes sense if you’re actually using that equipment to regularly create good music.


Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned veteran, you can benefit from limiting your options in the studio.

For the Beginner

This might be fairly easy for you. You may only have one microphone and no extra plug-ins or hardware equipment.

Don’t freak out!! In a lot of ways, you’re better off than the guy with hundreds of pieces of gear to choose from. Rather than spending all of your time AB-ing different combinations of gear, you’ve only got one choice. This means you spend more time making music than playing with gear.

Don’t be in such a hurry to amass a big ‘ol pile of gear. It may be the last thing you need. Graham Cochrane has a great free eBook on this very topic over at theRecordingRevolution.com. Check it out.

For the Seasoned Veteran

Maybe you’ve got an incredible collection of microphones, preamps, converters, EQs, compressors, plug-ins, monitors, headphones, and bobble-head dolls. 🙂

On your next project, limit yourself as much as possible. Perhaps you mix your next song using only the plug-ins that come with your DAW.

Or perhaps you record an entire song using only and SM57. You’d be surprised how much these strict limitations will get your creative juices flowing. You’ll be forced to think outside the box and do things differently.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you should always limit yourself. Great gear is awesome. But I do recommend occasionally limiting yourself. It’ll help keep yourself sharp. You’ll learn to rely on your skills rather than the gear.

Day 7 Challenge

In the comments below, tell us how you’re going to limit yourself on an upcoming project.

23 Responses to “Day 7 – Set Limitations [31DBR]”

  1. Matt

    I’m fortunate enough to have been asked to record a live jazz performance in two weeks. It’s a five piece band playing jazz standards from the 40’s (one of the players actually played in big bands in the 40’s!!). In any case, I would usually try to mic each instrument separately, including micing each drum separately. I’m going to try to get a more open, natural sound on the drums by recording it with 2 mics… one on the kick and one overhead the kit. I’m hoping this will give me a more natural sounding drum that is fitting with the style of music. Similarly, I plan on using one mic on the piano, rather than to mic it in stereo. I’ll still mic the bass, sax, guitar and vocal separately. The band is playing in an open dance hall so, I’m hoping to put a stereo pair in the room to get some room sound to blend in the final mix. Hope it comes out well, they’re really a nice group of people!

  2. Arjun Ramesh

    I will definitely limit my purchase of plugins and virtual instruments. There are only a few that I use, as I have come to trust them and there is no need for any more.

  3. Graham

    Well, as you can guess Joe, I couldn’t agree more. Reducing the variables in your recording and producing “chain” helps you learn what you have, learn how audio works, and discover your actual needs (if any) to make better music. Thanks again for the eBook mention…I truly believe it’s really helpful to people.

  4. Francisco Arbolay

    I always try to limit myself to use only the plug-ins that came with pro tools. I think that limiting yourself to use what you have will also help you to avoid G.A.S. I think that the less you have the more chances you have to create an unique sound style. If you have too many options, you can end sounding like a lot of bands out there. If you can spend less time learning and AB’ing plugins and more time working on songs, you will become a more efficient music producer.

  5. Larry Couch

    Just bought a MacBook Pro, so I’m going to live in GarageBand for a while. I’ve got a copy of Cubase LE, but I really want to get some stuff down and I really like the fun of recording performances. Most of what I want to record is acoustic guitar and mandolin, or 8-string guitar as well as a vocal track. So, that and a mic or two should do it until I get a space and some recordings under my belt.

  6. mgjr73

    I’m already limited gear-wise. I try to work with what I already have and avoid gear lust unless I get it for free. However, I’ve downloaded a lot of freeware plugins as I’ve discovered they’re easier to deal with than the ones that came with my DAW. I’m a believer of “the less stuff you have, the more creative you need to get.”

  7. Cush

    I’ve actually limited myself to one microphone, stock plugins and Ultrabeat drums for a couple years now. I’m actually going all out for my EP and recording it at the studio I freelance at. The main reason I’m doing this is that since I’ll be running the sessions…I get studio time for half price.

    So since they have lots of awesome gear there, I guess I’ll be limiting myself by not paying as much as the average customer? It was worth a shot.

  8. Preshan

    I will try to record a song using just one microphone. I’ll also try some time limits, like record and mix a whole song in one day.

  9. Will

    I’m always trying to keep it simple, so I don’t really have an issue with this – it helps that I don’t own much gear anyway! I’d rather spend my time writing and recording than fiddling around with plugins and external units…

  10. Scott

    Having a Pod X3 with a Variax 700, its always been hard to set limits for myself. My workflow limits have always been good. I normally limit myself to 12-18 tracks. I don’t use a lot of plug-ins, mostly the included stuff with Logic.

    As for my guitar problem, I’ve decided that I won’t record the clean guitar tracks. I’m going to limit myself to three amp/cab/mic combinations recorded to the track to avoid later tinkering. I’m also limiting myself with guitars to one model of the Les Paul and one model of the Telecaster. I think that these limits should help with my PodFarm problem.

  11. Jon Rohland

    I know we’re specifically talking about imposing limitations with regard to gear and workflow, but I think the single most beneficial thing for me at the moment towards actually making more music is imposing some *arrangement* limitations.

    I’d rather have an album’s worth of original material “finished” that consists of just acoustic and vocals than to have one or two songs fully arranged and produced that I slaved over. I can always come back and make a more fleshed out version, but right now I think that’s where most of my “paralysis of analysis” occurs… exploring the endless sea of options for instrumentation, dynamics and flow of a song. It’s all valid stuff and important, but I need to keep moving forward and I do think it’s keeping me from moving forward.

    Ok… there, I’ve said it. My name is Jon, and I’m an arrange-a-holic.

    • Durwood

      Thanks!! I’m stewing over how to add more instrumentation to a “smooth jazz” track which has a good groove and a nice lyric. However, listening to some of the music in that genre, I get caught up in the tendency to add and add and add more and more little riffs and stuff. I had considered limiting that stuff and your post affirms that decision.

  12. christopher [chrisw92]

    I love limiting, its what makes me really think about how to get the best sound with hardly anything (even though I don’t really have anything).

    especially plugins, in the digital world there is a seemingly limitless amount plugins you can use but my best mixing gets done when I set up a limit of how many EQ/compressors etc. I can use in a session. sure it takes longer but I think it gives better results. I often also use my psp for creation ideas as it only has a few instruments, a sequencer and not much more whereas my DAW has loads of virtual instruments, all with there own settings to tweak.

  13. Travis Whitmore

    Setting limitations is quite easy for me, since I’ve got a fairly limited setup to begin with! 🙂 I really have enjoyed Graham’s ebook over at http://therecordingrevolution.com as well. I’d love to learn more about better preamps (Especially for drum tones,etc) – but for now, I’m learning as much that I can with what I have.

  14. Simo

    Well, easy: 1 mic and 1 preamp to record almost everything during the pre-production of my album, I’ll try to limit the choice between max a couple of software compressors and eq (sorry, I really cannot choose just one, I simply can’t!) and no other hardware…

  15. Joe R.

    Vocals will be recorded only with a Sure SM58
    Acoustics will be recorded with a Sure SM81

    I only use the Plug-ins that come bundled with Cubase 5

  16. Bob Sorace

    I don’t have to go out of my way to limit myself, it just happens naturally.

  17. Wayne Johnson

    I use Pro Tools 8 and Sonar 8.5 and both come with enough plugins to get the job done. I have a few additional plugins for PT I have the fairchild 670 and 770 and the Nomad Factory British bundle of EQ and vintage style compressor. I also won on Gearwire last Feb. The IK Multimedia T-Racks Deluxe Mastering suite. This has a very good set of tools for EQ and Compression. It is a great mastering suite. When I find good EQ and compressor settings for particular needs save them and label them for future use with little or no tweeking. These also work with Sonar. A tip for PT users you can get reaper for $40.00 and you can use rewire in PT to use VST FX in Pro Tools without using a wrapper this is very nice. You can download a trial version of Reaper for 30 days and is fully functional to try it yourself. Works with Mac or PC.

  18. rick

    AS I’ve mentioned in previous challenges, I already pared my rig down considerably to get it into my bedroom. I’ve been thinking through how to pare it down even more because I still feel like I have too much going on.

    Basically, I will be using my MacBook Pro, a Novation 25SL MkII and Yamaha S90ES to control sounds in the computer, and probably use either an SM58 or KSM27 for recording vocals.

  19. Frank Adrian

    I think there’s no choice but to limit yourself. Ultimately, there are only so many things you can remember, so many things you know how to use well, how many things actually sound good. You get to a point where you say, “I start with this compressor and settings for my kick track” or “I use this particular reverb on my vocals”. Yeah, you may have a one-off here or there, and you always tweak, but the Pareto Principle holds in mixing as well as in 80% of other things. You want to spend the last 80% of the effort making magic, so the first 20% of the work is pretty run-of-the-mill – you don’t want every song to be a science project.


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